Egyptian Military Courts Do Little to Ensure Justice for Christians
It seems that no amount of freedom and democracy will help the Christian minority in Egypt. The loose order of things and the chaos we live can only be expected in a country still torn every which way. Every month we are faced with another tragedy, another misfortune, another adversity that reminds us of how far we are from achieving our goals for democracy. Every incident pulls us farther away from our hopes and honest desire for a democratic and prosperous nation free of oppression and corruption.
Again I believe this can only be expected after such a revolution, that not only toppled a dictator but wishes for a complete overhaul of the regime, which the new government seems unwilling to do at the moment. I’m not sure they will go that far in appeasing the people just yet.
Of all the different injustices we’ve seen in the past and which seem to persist no matter what changes unfold are sectarian issues. The oppression and inequality of Christians in the Arab world is no mystery, but you would imagine after the revolution and after witnessing such heartwarming stories and videos of Christians and Muslims holding hands in Tahrir Square it would simmer down, but unfortunately these affections are not shared by many. I think we can all agree that any kind of division can destroy a country, but none other than sectarian divisions; they are the root of all chaos and a disruption to any nation attempting to move forward.
The latest sectarian breakout was on May 19th after the re-opening of St. Mary’s Church in the neighborhood of Ain Shams in Cairo. St. Mary’s Church was initially a factory and in 2003 Christians were granted permission by the government to pray in it without rebuilding it into an actual church with a dome and such. So they started praying and holding services until government police said they must close it down until they are granted official papers. Before the revolution the police had closed down about 50 churches throughout Egypt because Christians didn’t have official papers for them and mainly because the government believes there must be a substantial number of Christians in a certain neighborhood before building a church. So after allowing free worship in St. Mary Church, the police suddenly decided to close it down again. This was all before the revolution.
After the revolution and after the Imbaba incident which triggered week-long protests and sit-ins in front of Maspiro (state-television headquarters) the military council decided to re-open some of the churches that had been closed down during Mubarak’s reign. Among them is St. Mary’s church. Christians in Ain Shams were ecstatic, however Muslims in the area became furious and demanded the Church be closed off immediately, they gathered and started praying in a building right in front of the church, which of course infuriated the Christians and the two sides began attacking each other with stones and pocket knives.
The military stepped in and arrested eight Copts and three under-age Muslims. The Copts were charged with rioting, violence and causing injury to citizens and Muslims were accused of throwing stones at the army, according to Mary Abdelmassih of AINA (www.aina.org).
Defense lawyer Abraham Edward said “This is a very unjust, severe and cruel verdict.” He said that as lawyers they are unable to fathom what is going on. “Today’s case is very strange, a case where there is not one shred of evidence to indict them. If this case went in front of the International Court of Justice they would all be set free.” He criticized the five-year prison sentence handed down to Ayad Emad Ayad for carrying a pocket knife. According to the law this is punishable by a six months suspended sentence.
Emad Ayyad said he was looking down the street from his balcony and saw his son Ayad Emad Ayad arguing with an officer, so he went down to see his son. The officer took him together with his son and shoved them in the police armored car along with a black handbag which belonged to the officer, as evidence to use against them. The police did not say how the weapons were confiscated from them.
Mr. Hitham Refaat Shaker, one of the defense attorneys, said in an interview on May 23 that he is sure the charges were fabricated against the Copts. “It is impossible to imagine the incident as described by the officer who wrote the report, that the Christians threw stones at other Christians in order to accuse Muslims of doing it.” (AINA)
According to Al-Masry El-Youm, Egypt’s state newspaper, the Coptic Orthodox Church has called on the cabinet to present it with the unified law for places of worship once it has been drafted. The head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, was awaiting the law.
A conference was held by the armed forces on Monday, May 30th, titled “Moderation between Islam and Christianity,” to discuss these latest occurrences and to decide on the fate of St. Mary Church and other closed down churches. The seminar was attended by a number of top Muslim and Christian clerics, as well as several well-known Muslim and Christian politicians and intellectuals.
Authorities still haven’t reached a verdict as to what will happen with St Mary’s Church but at the moment it remains closed and Christians remain unsure of how this new regime will play out in their own lives.
Lucy Shafik is a 2010 graduate in journalism from the American University in Cairo. Raised in a Christian family, Shafik says her relationship with God deepened and became more personal after she attended YWAM’s Discipleship Training School in Denver in 2005. Shafik has lived in Egypt her entire life, but travels regularly, usually on mission trips or schools with YWAM. She attends Kasr El Doubara evangelical church in downtown Cairo every Friday, and is currently leading a small group.